Leslie Howard versus Rex Harrison

     To me, Leslie Howard as Henry Higgins in Pygmalion was much better than Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady. It had been ten years since I had seen Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard's 1938 Pygmalion and George Cukor's 1964 My Fair Lady. I could not remember what Higgins looked like in Pygmalion. But when I read the 1913 play, by George Bernard Shaw, the Leslie Howard version of Higgins is the one I pictured. He looked more like what I had pictured Higgins to look like.

     Rex Harrison's portrayal of Higgins in My Fair Lady seemed dull and plain. His facial expressions seemed to never change. He seemed to be larger than life; he was not like a true professor. He lived in a large three-story home and had a number of servants, not just Miss Pearce, acted by Mona Washburn. His library was two stories and larger than some professors' homes. I do not know many professors that live quite as Higgins did in My Fair Lady. Rex Harrisons version of Higgins seemed to perfect; he could do no wrong.

     Leslie Howard's portrayal of Higgins was more believable. He was not perfect and lived in a much smaller home. His library was a small room, on one floor, and was cluttered with books and tools for teaching phonetics. His only servant was Miss Pearce, acted by Jean Cadell. Unlike Rex Harrison, Leslie Howard's character did not seem perfect; he had a realistic quality about him. His appearance is more realistic as well; he wore glasses giving him an intellectual appearance. Leslie Howard wore cheaper clothing; he would wear his robe around the house in the morning, while Rex Harrison wore more expensive clothing and would dress properly for breakfast.

     Both men brought a different interpretation of Henry Higgins to the screen. Rex Harrison is a fine actor and did a good job in My Fair Lady. But as a professor he was not truly convincing. Leslie Howard gave Higgins a more realistic and true quality; he was convincing as a professor.

Colin Moore

Table of Contents